The site for the new cathedral in Bahrain is moving along in its journey to be the seat of the Church in Northern Arabia.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia at Awali, Bahrain, took a step toward completion on 10 June, with a ceremony to break the ground and commence construction. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need was present during the ceremony.
The event, which included a Liturgy of the Word, was well attended by clergy and dignitaries including the Ambassadors of Italy and France, a representative of the King of Bahrain, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla and the Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, Bishop Camillo Ballin. Furthermore representatives of the countries which comprise the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
A time capsule was also dispatched at the site, containing a history of the Catholic Church, a history of the Church in the Vicariate and additional information on the Cathedral. It will be interred in the building’s foundation.
The project is several years in the making, receiving its first windfall on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2013, when the King of Bahrain His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa granted 9000 square metres of land to the Catholic community to build a new church.
The construction of the Cathedral is dependent on many factors. Perseverance in the face of difficulties and the good will of the local faithful and authorities have kept the project advancing since its inception. In addition, the factor of funding is constantly present as the capital needs mount alongside the bricks and mortar.
A notable contributor to the project is Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Pontifical agency assisting the persecuted and most needy Catholic communities worldwide. Father Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s representative to the project was present for the groundbreaking and said that it was a memorable event to see the Cathedral make a tangible move towards becoming a reality.
“It was very joyful for me,” said Father Halemba. “It was a time for prayers, a deep spiritual meeting, and to place our trust in the Lord. In the Liturgy of the Word we prayed for the country, prayers for the people of this country”.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia will be an edifice not only ministering to the spiritual needs of the faithful; a population of nearly 2 million across the four countries of the Vicariate. A multipurpose building adjoining the Liturgical building will house social and educational events. These are needs which are of particular import for the “local” Catholics, as the congregation is comprised mainly of expatriates hailing from India, The Philippines and Bangladesh, many of them taking domestic and labouring jobs to support families left behind in their home countries. Being in the minority in faith and ethnicity, it is not unusual for these people to face discrimination; disadvantage and working conditions so tough most would not accept them.
“In Bahrain the situation is not too bad, at the worst you might say there is the temptation to exploit the workers that come here. Workers may be forced to work in very hot conditions, in May it went over 47 degrees. “
“We will be able to have classes in English, teach some cultural sensitivity. It’s very important for the people who come to work here to learn these things so that they can have an easier time away from their home,” said Fr Halemba. “Their security can be at stake if they are unaware and accidentally behave in a way that offends the local people.”
The people that come to work here will have a place to come together to worship. According to the statements of the priest, the cathedral will be a visible marker of the goodwill of the people and Royalty of Bahrain for the Christian community in the Arabian Peninsula, a significant symbol in a region where many risk and some lose their lives for practicing their faith.
The project is still in need of funds to see it to completion. The faithful of Bahrain have provided much of the funds themselves, “reminiscent of the widow’s mite, sharing what they have, even though their means may be meagre, to see their place of worship become reality” pointed Father Halemba.
The Bishop also has also sought support in the United States of America. Currently, Aid to the Church in Need is a major contributor of funds.
“We still have a way to go,” said Father Halemba “there’s still some financial support needed to be raised. We will see where we need to go from here in the days to come”